The results of a 30-year study show the striking evidence of change in the water of Lake George.
Recently, at the annual meeting of the FUND for Lake George, a group dedicated protecting the natural resources and habitats of Lake George, it was announced that the lake was getting saltier.
Jeffery Short, an environmental chemist has been working, has been working with the FUND for Lake George to develop a report by interpreting 30 years worth of water quality data from monitoring efforts by RPI’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute. Short found that from 1980 to now, the amount of sodium chloride in the lake has shot up dramatically.
"Steadily over the last thirty years it has nearly tripled in that time," said Short.
The tripling of the amount of salt is the result of runoff and snowmelt from salted roads that traverse the Lake George watershed.
Short said that the estimated nine tons of salt that enter the water body each year has transformed the composition of the water column. Salt has replaced calcium carbonate as the dominate mineral in the lake.
That change has had a large impact on the types of plankton, the tiny organisms that form the base of the lake’s food chain, that live in the water. Short said that blue-green algae has replaced diatoms as a dominant phytoplankton. And blue-green algae is harder for many of the animals that live in the lake to digest.
"Blue-green algae is much less nutritious, it's harder for organisms to digest so for the same amount of chlorophyll in the water, if it's associated with blue-green algae, it can support far fewer fish," said Short.
And Short has a seemingly simple recommendation. "By far the strongest recommendation is to stop loading salt loading within the basin immediately."
Chris Navitsky is the Lake George Waterkeeper and works with the FUND for Lake George. He said the information and completed report will give his organization a tool to use when talking to policymakers to find ways to restrict the amount of salt inadvertently deposited into the lake.
"The other key component we need to take this to are the people who are actually doing the work - the DPW's, the highway superintendents," said Navitsky. "We haveto advocate for them because that may mean some increased levels of sophistication on their equipment on how they apply deicing materials."
Beau Duffy, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation, said that the state recognizes the damage caused by road salt in waterways, but said that salt remains the most effective way of deicing roads and keeping them safe during the long Northeast winter. Duffy said in recent years the state has taken steps to reduce the amount of salt used on roads.
"We've increased usage over the past few years of salt brine - which is essentially a mixture of salt and water," said Duffy.
The data also show an increased amount in other nutrients in the lake, primarily in the Southern basin.
Navitsky said that data will help with outreach efforts to municipalities and planning agencies to utilize low-impact development practices.
Navitsky said a low-impact development certification process is in development, as is an ordinance audit on zoning and planning boards in communities surrounding Lake George to score policies and their relation to controlling stormwater runoff into the lake.